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We Write to Read Home School Handwriting Kit, Grade Three Review by Donna Campos

A Practical Transition To Applied Cursive Writing
Peterson Directed Handwriting
315 South Maple Avenue
Greensburg, PA 15601-3218

The Grade Three level of We Write To Read Home School Handwriting Kit is A Practical Transition To Applied Cursive Writing. The "complete kit" contains a Teacher Handbook, a student book, two triangular pencils (one with and one without an eraser), one audio CD, an Animated Letters CD-ROM, and two self-adhesive position guides for desk or table placement--one for right-handed writers and one for lefties. (Families wishing to reduce costs could purchase the basic kit, which does not include the audio CD or the Animated Letters CD-ROM.) Designed for use in a homeschool environment, the kit provides all necessary instructions within the Teacher Handbook. The kit does not come with a pencil sharpener, although one is available separately for $3.98. The CD-ROM presents letters and numbers in vertical and slant positions for both print and cursive, along with additional examples of various types of stroke. The "Animated Letters" are not cartoon caricatures, but rather letters being drawn with movement so that a student can observe the correct writing stroke. An "Extras" portion of the CD-ROM includes developmental considerations, positional skills, and an explanation of the Peterson Method. The songs on the audio CD use an "echo" style, with the students repeating what is sung. "Mr. T" leads students through instructional songs about holding a pencil properly, positioning the paper, and correctly using writing paper guide lines. The pupil book is the size of a half-page of paper (8 ½ x 5 ½ inches) and is very easy for younger students to handle. The entire Cursive Alphabet and numbers are represented on the back cover in "Color/Rhythm" form. Colors are used throughout the program to represent the proper process as described in the Peterson Teacher's Handbook.

Though intended for Grade Three, this course would be appropriate for any student transitioning from print to cursive. The Teacher's Handbook jumps immediately into the instruction and gives a thorough explanation of the method and the process of learning cursive handwriting. The Peterson Method stresses patterns of movement rather than simply having children trace over letters with pencils repeatedly. Physical position for the student, the pencil, and the paper are all addressed, as well as actual handwriting specifics. Individual handwriting folders are part of the instruction and are described in detail in the section for classroom organization and preparation. Pupil books contain illustrations for position skills, and the inside front cover includes a green slant guide for placement beneath writing sheets. A fairly small amount of work is introduced each day. On day one the students write a sample page that will be kept for future reference; day two includes a teacher discussion and letters written on the chalkboard for the children to see; day three includes work in the pupil book and "air writing" and finger tracing; days four and five include practice on writing paper. Weeks continue in this fashion throughout the book. By week ten all 26 letters have been introduced and the student is using page 18 of the pupil book (out of 40 pages). The process is slow and steady but clearly outlined for the teacher to follow. I did resort to reading up on more information through the website, as some of the comments regarding mid-line and scientific approaches are better understood after gaining additional knowledge from the website. The program is working for my 9-year old, and it has even helped me improve my own cursive writing. The 36-week schedule allows for breaks for homeschools using a year-round schedule, while also fitting nicely into a traditional school calendar of 9-week quarters.

The use of gross motor abilities was our favorite part of the program; my son made very large flowing arm motions when practicing correct strokes, and it helped him grasp the concepts more easily. I was concerned that the simplistic songs might not gain my son's interest, much less keep it; so I practiced a bit before having him listen. Surprisingly, they were a pleasant addition to the process, and he easily sang along as instructed. It seems that the simple wording and fairly direct instruction included in the songs were helpful for my son (who is on the autism spectrum); however, some parents may need to hype their children up about the songs. I feel the Peterson program is well suited for special needs students who are often overwhelmed by lengthy, involved lessons. The triangular pencils are awesome, and they truly did help my son hold the pencil more efficiently. The website provides several options for pencil grips and quite a few printable helps. Plan to spend some time browsing the website; the free instructions and posters are well worth it.

Because homeschoolers often work at multi-use surfaces, such as the dining room table, permanently placing the self-adhesive guides may not be ideal. We placed rolled tape on the back of the guide so that we could use it and then remove it as necessary, but purchasing additional guides is another option. The adhesive is "ultrabak plus" by and is described as "removable"; however, we did not want to place it anywhere that wasn't solely a desk surface. The inclusion of rap music (the "Pencil Rap" song) on the audio CD struck me as unnecessary. Rhythm is certainly necessary, and it was well utilized in the program overall. But this particular song was laughable for my son. We were not offended by it per se, but it seemed to be an instance of adults "trying too hard." The posters that are referenced and pictured in the Teacher's Handbook are not included in the kit, but they are available free through the website. Many additional materials are available through the website store, and we wish some of the smaller items had been included in the complete kit--particularly the pencil sharpener.

One hundred years of service to the educational community is a level of commitment rarely seen today. Peterson Directed Handwriting is a company with a lengthy history of assisting teachers in handwriting instruction. The Teacher's Handbook gives an excellent reason for teaching correct handwriting skills: "Brain function scientists have established a definite link between handwriting process training and reading skills." The gross motor patterning provides a multi-sensory component and allows optimum learning to take place. Once the method is correctly taught and grasped by the students, they can practice writing on sidewalks, write-on/wipe-off boards, and chalkboards, as well as in everyday assignments in order to improve handwriting skills. The lack of repetitive, and often unnecessary, copy work using the pencils helped us to enjoy this program. The use of finger movements and air writing surpasses the grueling writing, writing, and more writing often required in handwriting instruction. The focus on process and slow, precise stroke movements places the Peterson Method in a unique position. This is a well-rounded approach that will help struggling writers improve the legibility of their work, building their confidence in the process.

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April 2008